You can find the map for today’s 3.83 mile walk here. 128 days until the Congestion Zone Ends Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.
I wasn’t entirely sure how to write the post about today’s walk. I was in the south of Bloomsbury, out of reach of the beautiful campuses I saw on Day 29, in an area that wasn’t quite as busy or as bustling. I didn’t find the walk itself incredibly interesting while I was on it, so I wasn’t really sure what to tell you about it.
The British Museum, one of London’s most famous places, is here so I obviously had to mention that, but it’s a big, well-known place and it’s not really my purpose to write about the places people already know. My intention is to talk about finding new things and about what pops out to me along the way.
After every walk, I research the places that stood out and sometimes in that process the walk starts to take on a new life. That’s exactly what happened today, and I’m excited to share the thread I found that seems to connect everything in the area really neatly, even the British Museum.
I had heard The Cartoon Museum existed but I didn’t know where it was, so I was happy that I crossed paths with it today. The museum’s purpose is to collect, exhibit, promote and preserve the best of British cartoons and make them available to the world.
They have a regular exhibition space that changes frequently and a standing collection that represents the progress cartoons throughout their history. If you enjoy graphic novels and cartoon books, the shop’s shelves are heaving with hundreds of reads. And if that’s not enough, there is also a library of 5,000 books here you can access for research. In that library, you are sure to come across works by William Hogarth, the star of today’s walk.
The Cartoon Museum has a soft spot for William Hogarth. In their opinion, “The foundations of modern British political and social cartooning can be found in works by Hogarth – whose social satires are regarded by many as the foundation of the British cartoon tradition”. He pioneered the idea of series paintings, works that tell a story across a series of panels. He also started a new trend in British art by making his pieces cartoony and full of satire.
His name rang a bell with me because, just around the corner, there was a church I only happened to stop and look at because the notice board outside had an eye-catching picture along with a small blurb about the church’s history. The picture was a Hogarth engraving called Gin Lane, which features this church, St. George’s Parish Church of Bloomsbury – particularly it’s spire.
Nicholas Hawksmoor designed the church after the 1711 Act of Parliament required the building of “50 new churches out of stone and proper materials with towers or steeples”. Apparently, a bunch of makeshift places of worship had been slapped together to accommodate the growing population but London’s religious leaders didn’t think they were up to par (aka they weren’t taking in the profits from them). Fun fact: out of the 50 new churches, Hawksmoor designed six. He also collaborated with another designer on a 7th church, St. Luke’s, which I found on Day 12.
Bloomsbury was in need of a new church “amongst the better sort and on larger, more open streets, not obscure lanes, nor where coaches would be much obstructed in the passages” because slums had grown up and surrounded the prior parish church, St. Giles in the Fields. The wealthy folk of Bloomsbury (apparently it’s always been a little snooty) were not keen on visiting a church surrounded by destitution; being prim and proper, they wouldn’t want to see that, obviously. So they partitioned off a section and created a new parish with St. George’s at its centre.
The church is famous for the steeple, which has some bizarrely cartoony animals on it (two lions and two unicorns) that are somehow simultaneously crawling and sliding both up and off the spire. It’s silly and cartoony but perhaps that’s what appealed to Hogarth when he included it in his sketch.
True to his style, this work uses two panels to tell a simple story: the merits of drinking beer compared with the evils of drinking gin. There’s Beer Street on the left, where all is orderly and people spend their spare time writing, reading and painting beautiful scenes of idyllic countryside. Compared to Gin Street on the right, which looks like the aftermath of a frat house party with the small exception of the world’s worst mother unknowingly dropping her baby to its death while she basks in the glory of gin intoxication. It’s ridiculous and hilarious and all those other things Hogarth does so well.
Conveniently, if you want to enjoy this work in person, it lives at the British Museum about ten paces away. Like I said, the British Museum is nothing new, it’s one of London’s most famous places. I visited recently and remembered just how many important pieces of world art and architecture are kept here. It’s great and absolutely worth a visit. But loads of people write about it in depth so I won’t say much more about it except to share this photo because I was quite happy with the way it came out. It really is a beautiful place.
Hogarth – Part 2
I remember learning a bit about Hogarth in an Art History class in high school and I liked his style a lot (all of the crazy characters that he includes, all of the ridiculous antics that they get up to, and the chaos and the confusion of the scenes) but I never learned much more about him beyond that.
After researching for this post today, I got really interested in the idea of who he was as a person and who he was to London. I came across his work in Lincoln’s Inn when I saw the Rake’s Progress in the Soane Museum, and it was curious that he popped again today. Now that I know a little about him, I was amazed to learn how important he was (and continues to be) to British culture, particularly because I have hardly seen him at all on any of my walks.
Charles Dickens (who is mentioned absolutely everywhere) is considered a Hogarthian writer. He based many of his scenes and characters on Hogarth’s characters. Many other writers and artist, up to and including Samuel Johnson, used him as the basis for their own work. They considered him an irreplaceable talent, yet in contrast to Dickens and Johnson, he only appears in faint traces around the city. He is a humble character but one who is clearly a massive part of London. Now that I know more about him, I am really curious to see where he shows up again. Maybe it’ll be on Day 31…
See you next time!
You can find the map for today’s 3.83 mile walk here.
128 days until the Congestion Zone Ends Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.